Technology's wars of religion are back. Steven Johnson, taking the theme of his ingenious Everything Bad Is Good for You to a new level, has learned to stop worrying and love the App Store, closed architecture and all, with a few mild suggestions: the "walled garden" could really be "a rain forest."
Interestingly, some of the most severe critics appear to be wounded Apple loyalists -- the kind thrilled by the original Mac 1984 commercial -- now dismayed by the company's alleged shift of attention from productive "makers" to consuming "takers."
Even before the iPad unveiling, the CNBC film MacHEADS, released in January, dramatized this cultural change. From the transcript:
00:34:08 << Well, apple has always had an interesting relationship with user groups.00:34:11 User groups had an element of unpredictability.
00:34:15 It's been close and far.00:34:20 << I think the mac community scares apple to a certain degree because they don't know how to "control" these people.
00:34:26 Apple is all about control now.00:34:27 And you really can't control the user group, although they are your frontline troops.
00:34:34 << It's almost as if apple's forgotten their own roots.00:34:37 You know how that happens?
00:34:39 And I think it's sad.
Over 15 years ago, at the dawn of the Web, Umberto Eco observed that the Mac was Catholic in its gentle, aesthetically "sumptuous" guidance, DOS Protestant in its burdens on the individual, and Windows a kind of Anglican compromise. (Linux and open source, which appeared after this essay, might be compared to the more radically democratic Reformation movements.) So perhaps the early Mac enthusiasts misunderstood the deepest foundations of Apple's culture. Wasn't Mr. Johnson's preferred metaphor, the enclosed garden, a theme of the Song of Songs that became one of the most beautiful literary and visual images of (and sometimes metaphors for) the medieval Church?